Does Chechen independence stand a chance?

30. January, 2003

Foto: A.Jansons

Does the war on terrorism increase global security? It could be said that by eliminating all terrorists, terrorism itself would disappear. But that is not possible as the injustice that has developed of late in the international order will only create new terrorists.

Security issues have always been an important component of international relations and for Latvia, as a member of the international system, security has traditionally been an especially fundamental issue. Currently, international terrorism has been raised as one of the most essential threats to security and so the question of whether terrorism can be justified and whether the war on terrorism currently being waged increases global security or not, is important.

The war in Chechnya brilliantly outlines various features related to all of these questions. Russia has defined all Chechen activity as acts of terrorism and thus for Russia, as for the US, no form of terrorism is justifiable. Actually, in today’s world, this is an almost universally accepted norm – terrorism is not justifiable. But what really is terrorism? Terrorism is the use of force to achieve some goal. Why does the state posses the right to use force (in essence, to kill people), but terrorists do not have this right even though the goals of both actors can be one and the same? The difference between states and terrorists is hidden in international law, where states are still the principal actors allowed to use force. That is why the unified fight being waged by states against terrorists is understandable as the special right of the state to use force is threatened.

If we compare the Chechen desire for the right to self-determination and the Latvian desire for the same, a fundamental difference is clear – during their recent campaign to acquire self-determination Latvians did not use force while the Chechens have done so. If we imagine that today Latvians did not have their state and wished to regain independence, that would be much more difficult to accomplish using force. Anyone, except for states, that uses force is deemed a terrorist. Consequently, terrorists do not have a right to their own state. It could be said that Latvians were successful, but the Chechens have not been so far.

The Russian side has reinforced its position in the war on terrorism with the argument that the goal of the terrorists is not just a secessionist inclination (separatism), a penchant to form their own states, but the ambition to fulminate against Russia as a state, against its power. Russia’s stance on this issue was clearly laid out in a statement made by a representative of the influential public organization SVOP[1], Sergey Karaganov, on a Russian TV program in November of last year: “There is no difference between separatism and terrorism. If there was earlier, then today there is none. Separatism is terrorism if weapons are used.”

It turns out that if the Chechens want to found their own state, then they must put down their weapons so that Russia would automatically cease to regard them as terrorists. Yet, it must be asked whether the Chechens could gain independence if weapons were no longer used. The answer would sooner be negative for both political and legal reasons, but above all else for military reasons – the Russian army is still located in Chechnya.

First of all, today’s Russia is fighting for the foundation of state power, which is the reason not for the battle against terrorism, but against separatist tendencies, even though the two are linked. Secondly, the Russian President has one answer to Chechen independence, which was heard on Channel 1 of Russian TV in December: “When, in 1996, after the end of the first Chechen war, Russia granted the Chechens independence, the Chechen attacks on Dagestan began immediately and the motivation behind these attacks is the spread of Islamic Fundamentalism throughout the whole world.” That means that Russia regards Chechnya’s attempt to gain independence as a threat not simply to its statehood, but to the security of the state as well. Thirdly, international law is restricted from interfering in the internal affairs of a state (this conflict must be described as internal and not international), and even if the UN Security Council were to rule on the use of force in Chechnya in order to counter threats to international peace and security (which seems impossible as Russia is a permanent member of the Council and such decisions must be taken unanimously), nevertheless state sovereignty is above the rulings of the UN Security Council. Fourthly, it must not be forgotten that during both Chechen wars serious violations of human rights have taken place. Also the human factor is important so that the Russian President might be able to look into the eyes of a Russian mother whose son has been killed in the war.

Accordingly, the claim that Chechens would gain independence if they put down their weapons is false. This has been proven by the declared means of ending the conflict in Chechnya, by organizing a referendum on an interruption in the war or accepting the Constitution. The Russian President also views this Constitution as the only solution, saying that, “a bad peace is better than war.” Yet, it must be stressed that this Constitutional project does not include mention of Chechen independence, quite the opposite – a proposal clearly states that Chechnya is a lawful constituent of the Russian Federation. Thus, the Chechens have no means of gaining independence, as it cannot be reached either through the use of weapons or by putting them down. It turns out that both assertions are not true.

What should Latvia learn from Chechnya? Two factors must be taken into account: First, the international situation as a whole and, second, the position of the great powers. Thus, all that a small state like Latvia can do is to keep from being left alone and to avoid forceful conflict on Latvia’s territory. That is why unceasing care must be taken to ensure that some (at least one) great power guarantees and supports Latvia’s independence, which entails unflagging diplomatic work within NATO and even joining the alliance, as such, is only one way to increase our security.

Returning to the question posed at the beginning – does the war on terrorism increase global security? From one perspective, it could be said that by eliminating all terrorists, terrorism itself would disappear (that, it seems, was US policy in Afghanistan and Russian policy in Chechnya). But is that possible? More than likely, the answer is no, for one simple reason – the injustice that has of late developed in the international order will create new terrorists. That is why the fight should not be against terrorism, but against economic and political injustice. Even this seems impossible as state interests, not concern about the elimination of injustice, are dominant. Therefore, there is no basis for unambiguously declaring that the war on terrorism increases global security, as the leaders of the great powers might like to so that they might justify killing people.

[1] Совет по внешней и оборонной политике, Council on Foreign and Defense Policy raksts

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